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close this bookDisaster Mitigation - 2nd Edition (Department of Humanitarian Affairs/United Nations Disaster Relief Office - Disaster Management Training Programme - United Nations Development Programme , 1994, 64 p.)
close this folderPart 4 - Implementing organizations
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentBuilding up skills and institutions
View the documentThe regional context: a problem shared
View the documentInternational exchange of expertise
View the documentSupporting decision-making: external specialists
View the documentKnowledge dissemination
View the documentInternational decade for natural disaster reduction
View the documentDisaster mitigation in UNDP country programming
View the documentInitial phases of the UNDP country programming exercise
View the documentSUMMARY


This part of the module discusses some of the organizations involved in the implementation of mitigation programs and outlines the policy goals of UNDP and DHA regarding disaster mitigation. The methods of achieving these goals are:

institution building

dissemination of information

the international exchange of information

the IDNDR campaign

Building up skills and institutions

Disasters are an international problem. The scale of a major disaster often exceeds the capabilities and resources of a national government. The international community is usually quick and generous in its response. Protection from disasters is similarly an international concern. Disasters are, with a few notable exceptions, infrequent and a country is unlikely to have regular experience or to have built up expertise in dealing with all of the wide range of hazards it is likely to experience. That expertise is available on an international level. Countries that have recently experienced a volcanic eruption may be best placed to assist another country anticipating volcanic activity, for example. International organizations are important vehicles for facilitating international exchanges of expertise and developing an international approach to disaster mitigation. Some of the important actors are DHA, UNDP, NGOs and regional organizations.

Helping to build national institutions and formal structures that will perpetuate the mitigation program is an important element of the UN's initiative in providing disaster management assistance.

One of the most important long-term, sustainable aspects of disaster mitigation is the development of skills and technical capacitation in-country. Professional development and a pool of expertise in disaster mitigation techniques will allow longer term development of the issue. Helping to build national institutions and formal structures that will perpetuate the mitigation program is an important element of the UN's initiative in providing disaster management assistance. In a number of countries, the response to any individual disaster is to set up a special disaster committee to handle the emergency. At the end of the emergency or reconstruction, the committee or government department has the advantage of retaining these skills and experiences. This allows some emphasis to be switched from post-disaster assistance to pre-disaster preparedness.

Institutions which gather and analyze information are fundamental to the development of the skills required in any nation to reduce its risk against future disaster. Examples of institutions that would make up a national technical capability could include:

Meteorological observatory

Seismological observatory

Volcanology institution

Hydraulics and hydrology laboratories

Engineering council

Industrial safety inspectorate

Chamber of architects

Institution of urban and regional planners

University departments

Research institutions

Associations of economists, geographers, social scientists

National standards committee

The hazard observatories are the first requirements for a national capability in hazard defence. Often these institutions have few resources and are perceived as low priority or as esoteric research institutes. Equipment needs may be critical. Observatories need networks of sophisticated instrumentation maintained in the field, and are likely to need advanced computing facilities and software to analyze results. Training of technicians and staff members in developments in instrumentation and scientific methods may be important. The output of the various professional institutions is often highly technical and there is a need to persuade technical specialists to present their findings in simplified forms, comprehensible to laymen and to professionals in other disciplines - the interdisciplinary interfaces are important in developing an integrated mitigation program.

The regional context: a problem shared

Countries with similar hazards, similar building stocks and with similar cultural backgrounds may benefit considerably from sharing experiences in disaster mitigation. Encouraging international linkages at a regional level helps to pool disaster expertise.

This has been successfully developed in regional disaster mitigation projects such as the Balkan seismic risk project involving Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Turkey and Yugoslavia (UNESCO), and in the South East Asian disaster construction project (UNIDO). The OAS (Organization of American States) also provides cooperation in natural hazard management to its member states through its Department of Regional Development.

Regional cooperation projects may also extend to joint mitigation measures, particularly regional hazard assessment for large scale hazards like cyclones and earthquakes, regional warning stations, such as the tsunami warning network around the Pacific rim, and even financial defences, like the regional disaster fund established by a consortium of island nations in the South Pacific Bureau for Economic Cooperation.

International exchange of expertise

A wide range of mitigation actions are available. Some have been successfully implemented in one location and the experience may be useful to others. Others may have been unsuccessful and the lessons from the failure are also important to other communities considering similar plans. Lessons of one country's building upgrading program to reduce earthquake risk may be of considerable interest to a large number of other countries. Techniques developed in another country for community involvement in flood protection may be directly usable in another.

The science of disaster mitigation is still at an early state of development and many techniques are being implemented or experimented with independently. The connection and transfer of experience from one location to another will help the implementation of effective mitigation techniques.

The rapidly developing science of hazard assessment; the earth sciences, meteorology, instrumentation advances and detection and prediction techniques are an important part of the international sharing of knowledge. Training, international scholarships, conference support, knowledge transfer in all its various forms is an important part of developing disaster mitigation expertise.

The role of DHA and other UN bodies in facilitating international exchange of expertise is summarized in Annex 1.

Supporting decision-making: external specialists

The formulation of a disaster mitigation strategy - deciding whether floods are more important than cyclones, what emphasis should be given to raising public awareness as against strengthening key facilities, what type of management and administrative structure is most appropriate to implement the project - has to be made by the community affected. International assistance can best help those decisions to be made by increasing the capability and expertise of the decision-makers.

Decision-support and technology transfer is offered by a number of United Nations agencies that execute technical cooperation projects. Technical cooperation projects provide international consultants, training and focused activities in a number of areas. Profiles of a number of United Nations agencies that are commonly involved in disaster mitigation projects are given in Annex 1. The types of projects they run, their focus and mandates are different for each agency, but areas of overlap exist and many of the large projects have input from several agencies, through inter-agency agreements. Sample projects are given to illustrate past experience of agencies, and the types of projects that can be expected of them.

Knowledge dissemination

Dissemination of knowledge internationally is an important function of both UNDP and DHA. Individual case studies of projects, manuals, literature compendiums and text books are part of a growing body of literature published by the United Nations and are recognized as primary sources of information for disaster mitigation. The authority of the United Nations tends to make such publications widely regarded and their relative ease of availability means that United Nations documents have lead the science of disaster mitigation. A major role for DHA and for UNDP offices is to disseminate United Nations publications as broadly as possible in-country and to ensure that any disaster mitigation project carried out in-country is published and disseminated as widely as possible.

A list of available UN publications is presented in the bibliography at the end of this module.

International decade for natural disaster reduction

The adoption of the 1990s as the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction was carried by the United Nations General Assembly in Resolution 44/236, 22 December, 1989. The objective of the decade is to reduce loss of life, property damage and social and economic disruption caused by natural disasters. At a national level, the IDNDR resolution calls for all governments to formulate national disaster mitigation programs, integrating a range of economic, land use and insurance policies into their national development programs.

The United Nations system is urged to accord priority to natural disaster preparedness, prevention, relief and short-term recovery, including economic damage risk assessment in their operational activities.

Disaster mitigation in UNDP country programming

In keeping with the aims of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, the UNDP/UNDRO Disaster Management Manual outlines the policy goals of UNDP and DHA as:

to strengthen the abilities of societies to avoid, or protect themselves, their property and means of livelihood, from natural hazards.

to ensure that programs and projects funded by UNDP do not exacerbate the potential adverse effects of natural hazards, nor increase the risk of disaster, but rather lead to an avoidance of disaster or a lessening of adverse effects.

to encourage the integration of disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness measures in planning and budgetary processes related to development in all sectors.

to facilitate exchanges between disaster-prone countries of experience, knowledge and skills related to disaster management.

The country programming exercise offers an opportunity for UNDP to assess its potential contribution to assist governments to develop their institutional capacity in disaster management. This should include both:

mitigation projects in risk assessment or disaster preparedness in areas of especially high risk and

incorporating mitigation into other development projects within the country program.

UNDP Resident Representatives are expected to consider the possibilities for promoting appropriate disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness measures during the regular country programming process and in the planning of post-disaster rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance. This requires a risk assessment study (see module on Vulnerability and Risk Assessment) which should be formulated in consultation with DHA and the UN Disaster Management Team.

The UNDP/UNDRO Disaster Management Manual lists the following aspects with which the Resident Representatives should be familiar in order to assess the priorities which should be given to disaster management aspects, the need for specific disaster management projects and the extent to which risk mitigation measures should be incorporated into other sectors.

The manual also gives detailed guidance on how to include disaster mitigation considerations into the formulation and appraisal of projects.

Initial phases of the UNDP country programming exercise


Past disasters

past experience with disasters - losses suffered (notably those which could have been mitigated or avoided through prevention, mitigation and preparedness measures), early warning and disaster response strengths and weaknesses

The possibility of future disasters

the natural hazards to which the country is subject, and their frequency, intensity, duration and location

the elements at risk; i.e. the populations, physical property, the socio-economic, agricultural and cultural resources and programs at risk from these hazards

the degree of vulnerability of these elements at risk to the hazards

the total losses which can be expected as a function of hazard, risk, and vulnerability

National resources and capabilities

the legislative, legal, policy and regulatory (e.g. land use, building codes) framework

the extent to which disaster management considerations are explicitly integrated in national development planning and budgetary processes

the scope and quality of national, regional and sub-regional disaster preparedness plans

the extent of public awareness, education, and responsiveness

the character and quality of disaster-specific organizational structures, resources, and procedures

government policies or practices in disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness - especially with respect to agricultural policies, building regulations, land-use planning, transport, regional development, social security support, forestry, water resources

aspects of Government policy directly or indirectly contributing to the occupation of disaster-prone areas

government policies or practices directly or indirectly exacerbating the vulnerability of communities occupying disaster-prone areas

policy shifts needed to reduce the vulnerability-increasing effects of existing government policy

national or external resources needed to reduce risk and vulnerability

Bringing about improvements:

external technical assistance needed and available notably within the country program

training and awareness raising at the government level



The policy goals of UNDP/DHA include specific attention to strengthening the ability of societies to protect themselves from natural hazards.

The UNDP Country Programming exercise offers an opportunity for UNDP to assess its potential contribution to governments to help them develop their capacity for disaster management.

Such assistance may include specific disaster mitigation projects but should also include incorporating disaster mitigation into projects in other sectors.

Disasters are an international problem. DHA and UNDP are important vehicles for facilitating international exchanges and developing an international approach to disaster mitigation.

A key UN role is to help build the national institutions which will perpetuate the mitigation program.

For hazards of regional impact, such as earthquakes and drought, regional cooperation projects can be valuable in building warning systems and sharing regional experience and expertise.

Knowledge in the field of disaster mitigation is developing rapidly. UN funding is a vital means of bringing to developing countries the new knowledge - both of the hazards and the means of combatting them - that can make implementation programs more effective.